Above: Located in Bloomfield Hills near Detroit the Smith House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and completed in 1950. Photo: James Haefner
Located in Bloomfield Hills near Detroit is a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian gem. Designed in 1946 the 1800 square foot Smith House was to be the home of Melvyn Maxwell Smith and his wife, Sara, both high school teachers. Being of limited means the Smiths sacrificed and saved the 20,000 dollars necessary to build the home, which was finally completed in 1950. Wright visited the house three times after it was built, declaring it “my little gem” with the Smiths simply referring to it as their “haven”.
The Melvyn Maxwell Smith Usonian house utilizes the L-shaped plan with a slight modification in the bedroom wing where the master bedroom and bathroom protrude out from the line of the other two bedrooms. Another unusual element in the plan occurs with the other bedrooms; they do not face onto the terrace out-side the dining room, but have windows in the opposite direction. A door near the study provides access from the carport to the workspace, while the main entry is on the other side. The dining area, at the junction of the two wings, is larger than most Usonian plans. The perforated board pattern of the clerestory windows is repeated in a vertical application for a folding screen across the windows and glass doors of the dining space, creating delicate patterns of filigree light. The typical Usonian materials are brick for the masonry elements in the plan, and board and batten for exterior walls and interior partitions.
Now under the care of the Cranbrook Academy of Art the home is open for tours. It has also been added to the National Register of Historic Places who the described the home’s characteristics as including, “ingenious building techniques, free flowing interior spaces exploding to the outdoors, as well as an ‘organic’ relationship to the site” and they concluded that “the home is especially pleasing at night when the spaces take on a festive atmosphere. At night from the exterior, the lights reflect off the large glass walls and mitered glass corners and give the home a crystalline quality.”
While I could find no video specifically of the Smith House you can get a taste of Wright’s Usonian style with this tour of the Rosenbaum House.
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